Use of Medical Marijuana for Cancer Patients

History of Cancer

Cancer begins when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control. In many cases cancer is a deadly case. Even in cases where cancer is not fatal, the effect it leaves on the patient is detrimental and mind boggling. Cancer impacts more than the lives of the people who have it, it affects their family and friends to watch their loved one suffer through it. The sad thing is that many people have to watch their loved ones suffer, from the outside, but never know where the source of pain is coming from. Watching a cancer patient suffer is tough enough, but the pain is increasing tougher for the actual patient themselves.  There are many medicines to help patients get through the physical problems they endure, but for the mental aspect the options are slim.

About one-half of all men and one-third of all women in the US will develop cancer during their lifetimes1. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States.  It is generally estimated that roughly 7.2 to 7.5 million people worldwide die from cancer each year2.

History of Marijuana

Marijuana has been described in Indian and Chinese medical texts for more than 3,000 years3. In the middle ages, herbalists used marijuana externally to relieve muscle and joint pain. In many Middle Eastern countries, marijuana is a legal substance. In western countries, medical is illegal; however it is the center of attention in politics and legal controversies.

Medical Cannabis can be beneficial to many cancer patients.  If medical cannabis could be used for its psychological benefits, then it would relieve some of the stress cancer cause on its patients. It also has physical benefits. The cannabinoid drug THC has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in relieving nausea and vomiting and increasing appetite in people with cancer and AIDS4. According to UCSF, they conducted a study using cannabinoids with opiates and found that patients showed up to 95% decrease in chronic pain when using inhaled marijuana vapor with opiates such as morphine5.


Some people will make the argument that marijuana is not the solution to cancer patient’s psychological problem. Even though it has many benefits, it is a potent drug that has very harmful side effects. One of the side effects of marijuana is on the heart. It is known to speed up the rhythm of the user’s heart. Also heavy use of marijuana can also increase the risk for cancer, especially in the lungs.

It is often mistaken that smoking marijuana is the only way the drug can be used; however there are many more ways. It can be brewed into teas, or even mixed into bankable products (cookies or brownies). By using marijuana this way, it reduces the user’s risk of lung cancer.

Opposers of medical cannabis also argue that there are many other treatments for cancer patients. A common cancer treatment is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy works by attempting to kill cancer cells, by stopping them from dividing. By doing this it makes the cells divide. Cancer cells normally divide rapidly and the other cells in the human body do not, so chemotherapy attacks those cancer cells6. The obstruction is that other cells like bone marrow cells, immune cells and hair follicle cells also divide rapidly and chemotherapy attacks those cells. With this, many cancer patients’ bones are weakened, become sick easier, and also suffer loss of hair.

Another common treatment for cancer, is radiation therapy also known as radiotherapy. Cells in the body reproduce. The goal of radiation therapy is to damage cancer cells so that will not reproduce. When the cancer cells are damage the body will get rid of them.  Non-cancer cells are also damaged; however those cells will repair themselves unlike cancer cells.  This type of cancer treatment has a higher success rate than chemotherapy. According to researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center radiation therapy has an 88 percent success rate for controlling the lesions7.

The problem with radiotherapy is that it can also cause cancer. Radiation was exposed to many Japanese and also to American soldiers after the Atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Doctors at Japan’s Radiation Effects Research Foundation examined more than 4,000 survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and found almost 15 percent had developed thyroid- related cancer, tumors or cysts 8. Also radiation therapy cannot be used for all cancers. For example, tumors on organs such as the liver or lungs cannot be treated with radiation because they move with every breath taken.

With chemotherapy there are many side effects. A common and significant side effect is the loss of appetite. Chemotherapy is also known to leave a bad taste in the patient’s mouth that can contribute to the loss of appetite. An effect of marijuana is that it gives the user an increase appetite. Medical marijuana can help combat the side effects associated with chemotherapy. If medical cannabis cannot be used, then the benefits of chemotherapy cannot be reaped. More side effects of chemotherapy can be combated with marijuana. Nausea and vomiting is also a heavy side effect of chemotherapy; conversely marijuana has the benefit of calming someone suffering from nausea and vomiting.

Although chemotherapy and radiation are effective cancer treatments, they come with pricey side effects. Both of these treatment options also cause chronic pain. These side effects can be coped with by using medical cannabis. Marijuana can be used for more than its physiological effects.

From living with someone with cancer, I witnessed many of the side effects from my mother who was diagnosed with cancer. She suffered for 2 years with cancer, and I watched her condition deteriorate. Even though I did not have the cancer myself, I could see the pain that she went through. It was tough to watch her go through the pain even though I did not have to live with the disease; therefore as a person going through the obstacles of cancer it has to be damaging to the patient themselves.

Cancer has a number of 4 stages (I through IV) with IV being the stage where the cancer has progressed the most. The staging takes in account: the size of the tumor, how deep it has penetrated, and weather it has advanced to other organs. The more stages your cancer passes through the lower the chances of survival are. The survival is determined in five years. This doesn’t mean that cancer cannot reoccur after five years.  In stage I, the chances for surviving is 88%; stage II is 74%; stage III is 29%; stage IV 15% 9. These survival rates vary depending on the type of cancer. As a patient hearing the stage your cancer is in a psychological challenge.

From a personal account, I can remember going into the hospital with my mother and the emergency room physicians saying that her cancer was in stage IV. At the time I did not know about the stages of cancer, until I later researched what they meant.

For a patient optimism is a key instrument to survival. Going into a hospital and hearing the stages the cancer is in, takes a high level of optimism and hope; nonetheless it is very hard to matriculate through life knowing how sick you are. With some cancer cases, the disease is detected late or at one of the final stages in its course. Doctors have the inevitable task of telling the patient this unscrupulous news. Even more treacherous, is being told the news that you have a certain amount of time live.

 Mr. Parke story is a first-hand story of someone having an expiration date on their life. He recalls being told that he had at least one tumor in his brain and that when he had three more rapidly growing. When handed the MRI scan, he said “He showed me some of the scans of my brain and it looked like someone had smashed a box of eggs inside my head.” On top of this bad news, there were more tumors in his chest. At this point his cancer had progressed into stage IV. In Mr. Parke’s and many other similar unfortunate cases, the psychological benefits that marijuana brings should be used to help cope with the mental health problem they have to deal with.

            Cancer is a gruesome disease and when it is infested in a person, it can devastate their life. The path that it takes reels many side effects, physically and emotionally. Marijuana is a drug that should be used to help cancer patient deal with the disease. It helps to relieve symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. It has no use to cure the cancer, but it can make the experience more attainable. Even cancer treatment’s side effects can be handled with marijuana. When cancer is classified in patients as terminable, it creates a mental stress. The psychological benefits of marijuana can be used to relieve this mental stress problem.


Cited References

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  5. Medical Marijuana and Terminal Illness [homepage on the Internet]. MD MCN Co, Inc.; 2009. [cited 2012 Apr. 22]. Available from:
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  2. Science Daily [homepage on the Internet]. Rochchester (NY): ScienceDaily LLC; 2005 Oct. 24. [cited 2012 Apr. 22]. Available from:
  3. Harrington S D. Radiation Effects Linger in Atomic-Bomb Survivors, Study Says [homepage on the Internet]. 2006 Feb. 28. [cited 2012 Apr. 23]. Available from:
  4. Cancer Staging [homepage on the Internet]. 2010 Sept. 22. [cited 2012 Apr. 20]. Available from:


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